Going to Estes Park

One of the places everyone should see at some time in their lives is Estes Park, Colorado.  I live in Fort Collins, which is just about an hour away from this scenic wonder nestled in the Rocky Mountains.  Just a short drive away down Hwy 34 is the Big Thompson Canyon which flows in its twisting turning path.  When I first heard about the “Big” Thompson I imagined this great big wide, deep river.  Being from Alabama, rivers are big.  The “Big” Thompson isn’t big.  For most of it, you could hop across it with 3 or 4 good jumps.  The “Big” Thompson, most everywhere else in the U.S. would be called a creek.  When I first saw it I thought out loud, “If this is the “Big” Thompson, I wonder what the Little Thompson looks like”, not even knowing there actually is a Little Thompson.  And... yes, as you might expect, it is even smaller.

But, what a beautiful river!  Even though it may be small by some standards, it is a powerful river with clean pure water rippling laughingly over rocks worn smooth and lined on each side by yet more rocks.  Most times you will find fly fisherman spaced out along the several miles this river flows from Estes Park toward the South Platte which ultimately joins with the Missouri, then the Mississippi, and on to the Gulf of Mexico.

I am told the river actually passes on quite a large amount of water.  Because much of it flows at a rapid rate, due to the decrease in elevation travelling from the snow melt tributaries high in the mountains toward the prairies, that it moves forward as much water as some larger slower rivers.  There are people in the Deep South that are swimming and fishing in “Big” Thompson water, they just don’t know it.

Anyway, the "Big" Thompson Canyon presents some of the most breath taking scenery in the world!  You could travel all over the planet and see other famous places and this one is right up there with any of them.  The Rocky Mountains are well named.  The foothills are rocky too.  In fact the “Big” Thompson Canyon is the rockiest place I have ever seen or probably ever will see.  The road leading to Estes Park has many hairpin turns, so many and so tight that you can almost see yourself passing yourself on the way through.  The walls of the canyon go up so steeply that you really have to crane your neck to see all the way up.

Finally, after making about a gazillion turns and passing all the little bridges that lead to all those little neighborhoods that have all those rustic cottages and cabins, you reach a place where the sky opens up again before you and there it is,  Estes Park!  There is this feeling you get when you reach this point.  It is a mixture of relief to finally be away from the dizzying turns and elation at the beauty of this charming little town surrounded on all sides by spectacular mountains.  Words cannot describe them.  If you don’t see them yourself, no amount of talking about them or even looking at pictures will do it.  You have to see them, in person, wide awake and preferably with someone else who is also looking at them.  There is a feeling you get that few things in life can duplicate.

My wife and I have taken so many friends and family there that it has become almost routine.  But when we see it all over again through the eyes of our guests, we feel a sense of pride that we could jump in the car, even with just half a tank of gas, and take our guests to such a place of beauty and be home later that day before dark.  To live in Colorado is to be real close to amazingly spectacular scenery or to be right smack in it.  Those who live in Estes Park are the latter.  We can easily visit where they live.  I suppose it is possible for those who live there every day to lose the wonder of it all but every sunrise, sunset, weather change, or location provides enough variety that I doubt any long-time resident ever gets bored with the views this place provides.

Once you arrive in Estes Park you may discover that there are a lot of other people who like the place too.  They are everywhere, many of them looking for the same parking space as you are.  But once you get parked, it is a walking town.  There are little shops with every kind of souvenir you can imagine.  T-Shirts with all kinds of humorous and wacky things silkscreened on them, jewelry, hats, nick-knacks, carved bears, almost anything you can make look like a moose, put a moose on, attach some moose theme upon it, or in any way shape or form identify the product with moosiness will sell like hotcakes to hungry lumberjacks.  Of course once you have entered and exited about a dozen such shops they begin to run together into a blur of rustic overload and you want to do something else.

That something else, for me, is to visit the famous Stanley Hotel.  The Stanley is a stately old building that was built back before power tools, back when real craftsmen took real pride in their workmanship.  It is all of wood, ornate in every way, high ceiling, lush moldings, world class architecture, custom stairway bannisters, hardwood floors and the coolest looking old world elevator anywhere.  It is built on a hill overlooking Estes and has the best view of the surrounding scenery anywhere.

I like to go to the hotel coffee shop, buy a pastry and a cup of joe, then go up the ornate stairs to take my place in a rocking chair on the large majestic porch overlooking the town and just sit there pretending I own the place and am so magnanimous as to allow all the others to visit my home and also enjoy the view.  After all, what joy it is to have such a beautiful place and not share it with my fellow human beings?

Other things close by Estes are also must sees.  Trail Ridge Road, the highest elevated interconnected road in America begins just west of town.  You pay a few bucks, follow the road all the way over the Continental Divide, see huge elk herds, big horn sheep, marmots, chipmunks, and all kinds of other critters.  You finally get way above the tree-line where the oxygen gets thin and you feel that high altitude dizziness that can be either euphoric or mildly nauseating depending on how acclimated you are to it.  But this view of being “on top of the world” is worth the weirdness of it.  I have found that chocolate fudge helps, and even when it doesn’t it is still tasty.

No matter how many times I take a guest to Estes Park I still enjoy it myself.  I am thankful to be allowed to treat someone else to this place that is so close to where I live.  Although, I suppose, I will always be a transplanted Southerner, I have been transplanted and now consider myself a Coloradoan.  This is my home.  When I visit my native city of Mobile, Alabama and get my annual fix of Southern cuisine, salt water beaches, familiar accents, and old friends and relatives, I am ready to come back HOME to Fort Collins, Colorado!  I love being pastor of “The Bridge Church” which has some of the best people I have ever known as members, and feel blessed by God to live and serve in this place to which I have been called.

If you ever find yourself anywhere close and east of Estes Park, by all means find the time to take the drive through the “Big” Thompson Canyon and spend a few hours in this special place.  If you want, go see the Stanley.  It’s OK, you can tell them that Marc Leverett gave you permission to tour the place. 

My Foray Into the Fort Collins Newspaper

Condemn Extremism Not Religion - (Edited for this forum)

A recent contributor to the Soapbox column made some interesting statements about the need to relegate all religion to the area of mythology. Citing the Norway killings, his premise was that religion, even moderate religion, was responsible for much bloodshed and mayhem in the world.  I partly agree with him.  Not about all religion being myth, but about the dangerous nature of certain beliefs.

Certain religious beliefs have indeed been the motivation behind all kinds of violence. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am appalled that some who claimed to be his followers have done some terrible things all in the name of "faith." I stand with this contributor in condemnation of those who adopt an ideology that allows them to mistreat others and commit atrocities upon their neighbors because they may not share their beliefs.

But we are missing something here. While religious extremism may have been responsible for thousands of deaths, there is another extremist ideology that is responsible for more deaths, namely secularism.  In particular, militant atheism, a particular ideology, a faith that religion is bad, has been the force behind more deaths than all of religious based mayhem combined.

To what can one compare the Leninist purges of Russia where literally millions of Russians were murdered or displaced because they did not share the tenets of godless Communism? What about Nazism, led by men who were secularists, and believed wholeheartedly in Darwinian evolution, and the concept of survival of the fittest?  They murdered millions!

What about the millions of Chinese people who were killed during their revolution as the Maoists especially targeted people of faith in their purges? Or consider the killing fields of Pol Pot, another atheist, who shared this contributor's belief that all religion should be relegated to mythology?  As we look back at the last few decades, it is statistically verifiable that while religious extremism may have killed its thousands, secular extremism has slain its MILLIONS.

If we are to lay blame upon all religionists because of the actions of a minority, are we to blame all secularists for the atrocities committed by those who also "believe" that there is no God? Maybe we need to relegate all atheism to impracticality because of the demonstrable ties this ideology has to oppression, mass murder, and genocide.

After all, according to this contributor's reasoning, "It is the moderates that allow for the extremists through shared ideology."  So are we to place guilt on all moderate secularists for the actions of some more radical secularists?

We should all condemn the kind of insanity behind the Norway mass murders. We should stand united in condemnation against Islamic extremism and so-called Christian fundamentalist extremism.

Jesus Christ taught that we are to advance our faith with words, not swords. The very worst one should fear from a follower of Christ is to be witnessed to in love, or to be courteously rebutted in the city newspaper. 

Marc F. Leverett lives in Fort Collins.


Trial by Fires

(About the Hyde Park Fire near Fort Collins)

They have been worrying about “the big one” for years.  Certain areas of Colorado have been so dry for so long that many experts predicted a season of uncontrollable wildfires as “imminent”.  In addition to the lack of rain in the foothills, thousands of lodge pole pines have been killed by beetles and are so dry they might as well be matchsticks waiting for ignition.  Among these trees are where many of our church families live, and where many others hold property.

The High Park Fire, just west and north of Fort Collins was a lightning caused fire that spread so fast it became a monster overnight.  Low humidity, strong winds, and tinder dry ground cover gave us no chance for an early response.  Entire neighborhoods were evacuated in such a hurry that many residents had to make instant decisions on what to take with them, and what to leave behind, knowing their homes and belongings may very well be gone forever.  Howard, a widower who teaches our senior adult class, whose mountain home was in the area first affected, had to leave so fast that he barely had time to pack some clothes and necessary items for an undetermined stay in town.  I asked him what he thought to take with him and he laughingly said, “For some reason I thought to grab my pool cue on the way out.”  It’s funny the things you think of when in that kind of situation.

He did stay in town for several days not knowing the status of his property.  The fire had spread to other places and away from his area before he finally got the news that his house was one of those that was lost in the early stages of the fire.  A lifetime of memories went up in smoke, and this man, at this stage of his life, is now faced with the decision to re-build on his property or settle out and move into town.  You can see the grief in his eyes.

Several other of our families also had to evacuate, some twice, some three separate times, as the fire moved erratically with the changing winds.  One couple hosted another refugee family only to become refugees themselves as the fire threatened their area.  Thankfully these did not lose their homes.  While they wondered about their property they stayed with relatives in town.  We had special prayers in our meetings for them and for others in the state which were also facing impending destruction.

We could see the smoke plumes rising up.  As the heat of the day gave rise to the smoke it looked like a volcanic eruption!   Several times in Fort Collins, when the wind shifted, we were inundated with smoke, soot, and ash.  At times we could see the angry orange flames just across the lake as the fires spread to the east sides of the foothills.  Scary stuff.   We had to cancel one Wednesday night service because the smoke was so heavy in town.

It is strange how going through something like this personally sensitizes you to the news reports of fires elsewhere.  Other fires popped up all over the state, the most notable being the Waldo Canyon Fire west of Colorado Springs.  We watched the news in shock as entire subdivisions were burned down house by house, street by street, and block by block.  Every one of those houses belonged to our fellow Coloradoans, our neighbors, our friends.  Those who lost their homes were sometimes interviewed on the news.  Grown men, women, and children cried unashamed on camera as they tried to answer questions from reporters about their homes.

Good neighbors pull together in times like these.  Colorado’s churches stepped up to provide shelter, support, comfort, and love for those who had to flee in the night, and for those who have been working so hard for so long to fight the fires.  People can’t say enough good things about these heroes, many of them from neighboring states, who work in harsh and dangerous conditions to contain these fires.  Because of their efforts many homes were saved that surely would have been lost otherwise.  In a different way, every pastor knows what it is like to work hard and rejoice to see some saved, but also to grieve about those who are lost. 

Marc Leverett - Bridge Church - Fort Collins, CO